Tag Archives: Community

What does love mean in the context of a school?

We had our Moving On Assembly for the grade 8 classes today. I had a very special group this year. I will miss this class something fierce.

Here is the speech I gave. (We all raised plants this year, hence the reference to plants.)There are many variables to consider when helping a seed to grow into a fruitful, viable, living plant.The obvious things are water and sun. But you have to be sure that the soil has nutrients. It can’t be too wet or too dry. You have to place the pot in a place where it gets optimal sun but not too much.Sometimes the pot needs to be rotated. Sometimes the plant must be pruned. Sometimes you just leave it alone for a few days and trust that it will be fine. Other times it needs constant attention.

Raising a collection of different plants in one setting adds even more complexity. Some plants need water everyday, while others prefer drought. Some plants will vine and weave and grab onto anything they can attach to, while others prefer to grow alone in their pot. Some plants will wither with the slightest neglect, and will spring back to life with a little attention, while others will ignore everything you do.

There are many variables to consider when helping a teenager grow into a kind, independent, expressive human being.

The obvious things are food and electronic devices. But you have to be sure that their classrooms are nurturing. They can’t be too hands off or too smothering . You have to place the kids in a place where they get optimal mentoring but not too much.

Sometimes the student needs to be reminded about manners. Sometimes the kid must be reprimanded. Sometimes you just leave them alone for a few days and trust that they will be fine, other times they need more constant attention.

Raising a collection of different kids in one classroom adds even more complexity.

Some students need attention everyday, while others prefer to be left alone. Some kids will make friends and be social and grab onto anyone they can get attached to, while others prefer to grow alone in their skin. Some students will clam up with the slightest neglect, but will spring back to life with a little attention, while others will ignore everything you do.

But one thing I have noticed is that both plants and students need love grow. Love is word we don’t use enough in schools. We love our families and we love music and we love food and we love boys and we love girls and of course we love books, but for some reason it feels a bit strange to say you love your teacher, or for me to say I love my students. Maybe it is because the word love is such a tiny word for such an immense emotion. But I am here to take it back.

What does love mean in the context of a school? I think it means kindness, honesty, respect, taking risks and allowing for vulnerability in order to feel safe. I think love in the classroom means that everyone feels like they belong. Everyone feels heard and attended to. Everyone can be themselves without having to change for others. In short, people enjoy each others’ company and feel happy to be with others. When you love your peers, your teacher or your students you want to see them everyday and their energy and your energy are no longer separated.

I want to share a quick story to help you visualise what this love looks like. Last Friday night, I was with 8JRa and all their parents at our year end class party. We had eaten and the music was loud. Before I knew it, I looked up and saw us all dancing and smiling. Yes, there was a conga line around the room. Kids, parents, teacher.

In my 15 years of teaching, I have never seen anything like what I saw last week at our class party. I have taught my share of kids. I have raised my share of plants. But sometimes, the stars are aligned and a classroom and the teacher and the kids, and let’s not forget about their parents, create a situation so we all love each other. These bonds. These classrooms are special. Don’t take them for granted. They don’t happen very often.

In closing, I want to say goodbye to 8JRA for this year. I hope you will come and visit and stay in touch in the future. I hope you cherish what we built 8JRA. It didn’t happen by accident. Kids, Parents, Teacher- we all did our part. We had a good run. I hope you will look back on this year and think about the things we learned together and that you smile fondly. This class will always have a special place in my heart.

Thank you. I love you.


No Budget

Hello friends and strangers and readers of all sorts. it has been a while, so I feel a more gentle start is in order. It’s Sunday night and the sky just went from cotton candy, to dolphin belly,  to slate. I am feeling….how about a full stop. I am feeling. Weeks have passed since I allowed myself the luxury of tussling with words, and so tonight, feeling at best a tinge of flirtation, but really a more lingering weariness and fatigue, I have decided to take a break and carve a chunk of time from the ongoing present and future to speak to (with) you.

I had a strange morning. One of those days when the randomness of sharing and the thrill of living open and honest online collide, leaving tasty treats in their wake. Fun nuggets of camaraderie and inspiration- reassurance that when we share our thoughts and lives and passions with the world, the world will often talk back, returning our ideas and work back in a myriad of songs and echoes.

It started with this email:

Hi Jabiz,

My name is Adriana and I’m an artist.  I long time ago I found in one of your blogs this picture I loved.
and it spired me to make a series of paintings in my Pop Surrealism Style. here’s a link to my website so you can see the pictures I have of it.
The other paintings aren’t up yet.. too much work to do still but I wanted to share it with you and if you want I could link it to the page where the picture is.

That’s it for the moment and thank you for sharing all those beautiful pic!

Does this exchange mean anything? Is it important? I don’t know. Who am I to say, but it does feel right. Something about looking to the world to find inspiration, to make those human artistic connections resonates with me. More importantly, giving of my life in a way that might connect to other passions matters to me.

So many people are terrified of posting and sharing and over doing it, but time after time- for me at least- cool things happen. You can check out Adriana’s website here and the picture from above here. I am looking forward to exploring more of her work and hopefully getting to know her a bit more online. I have already asked if I can buy that print.

The second story, which also happened this morning, which is not usual is as follows:


I just came across your image of the Azadi Freedom stencil on FB and would like permission to use it in a book I am finishing up on street art.

My name is KET and I am an author and graffiti writer. I have been writing books on graffiti, street art, and tattoos and publishing magazines for over 15 years. My books include: Graffiti Planet, Rocking It Suckers, Street Art, Graffiti Tattoo, New York City Blackbook Masters and many more (link here)

I appreciate what you did and would like to include the image and a quote in the book.

Please let me know if you are interested. There is no budget just my desire to share the image to the world thru the book.

There is no budget, just my desire to share. I love it. You can read more about that photo here. It is great to see that project move onto its next incarnation and live in a book. After years of living online and sharing my life with the Internet, I am more often than not pleasantly surprised by what comes back to me. There were but just two examples from this morning.

What do you think? Do things like this happened to you? Am I too naive? Too trusting? Or is this the karmic state of global art we should be striving for?


Blogs from the Mouths of Babes

As we continue to explore the rich world of authentic student blogging, it is important to stop and listen to feedback and criticism from time to time. It is important to understand the apprehension that some stakeholders may have when it comes to open online publishing.

You can read more about how we have been blogging with our middle school students by reading some of these post, but let me give a very brief synopsis of what our program looks like up to know. (Before I start, let me clarify that when I say we, I am referring to myself and Paula Guinto who is my teaching partner in grade 7 & 8. We both teach English; I blog here with my students and Paula writes at Meta.)

The basic manifesto as it stands, looks something like this:

I want my students to feel confident about who they are through critical and artistic exploration of their identity. I want them to learn how to clearly articulate this voice in a variety of media in order to find a network of like-minded people in order to create a community of learners that will help them learn during and beyond school.

We hope that blogging will help our students achieve this goal. The system we have set up is pretty simple: We coached every student in our class to set up a blog through blogger, explained basic etiquette and gave them freedom to own the space. We are not formally assessing anything that goes on the blog, and there is no obligation to blog at all. We are hoping to see what kids write when they are given a space and freedom to write.

Like any process at a school, there have been mixed feelings from students, teachers and parents. There have been some accurate criticism and others based on misunderstandings. As a community, we are in the process of figuring out what blogging looks like for us. We are looking to make sure that there is a clear understanding of the what and the why and the how by all the stakeholders involved.

As part of this process, I asked my students to write a short paragraph agreeing or disagreeing with this statement:

Blogging is an important part of an English classroom.

I was floored by the results. You can read all of the answers here, but let me give you some highlights:

The freedom to express ourselves is important; providing a medium and nurturing the usage of that medium improves our skills as writers and removes some of our inhibitions of writing.

Blogging is a fun way to write. It can be used for educational purposes and it also helps the student to think when they are writing “who is my audience.” Sometimes having students writing on a blog will increase a students motivation to write.

Blogging is useful. No scratch that out, Blogging is necessary. With teenagers [us] being young minds full of innovative ideas, thoughts and views, our generation needs to share them to audience and blogging enables us to do that.

It wasn’t all positive, many students had valid concerns:

Some people don’t like having their personal thoughts online because it is a public space.

The notion of writing online to a worldwide audience was not quite thrilling.

Expecting a bunch of insecure teenagers who aren’t quite sure who they can trust in the constantly moving sands of social media to write about whatever comes to their mind is asking for a lot.

Sometimes people are not able to get the time to read the blog posts with all the homework we are currently getting.

I hope you get a chance to read all of the response and maybe add some thoughts in the comments on our class page. But what does this all mean? What did I learn?

The fact that we have chosen not to force students to blog has been invaluable, however, there is still a pressure to share and this is making some kids uncomfortable. There is a lot involved in this process:  from self-esteem, to trust, to community. The notion of sharing publicly is still a major hurdle for many students and their parents. What is the point? What are the benefits?  What are the problems and the issues? I am not sure if this post is designed to answer questions. I was hoping to ask some and have you, dear reader, answer a them. What are the benefits of public sharing for students? Why go global?

I also noticed that many of the students might be blogging more if there was more structure. The total freedom, seems to have frozen some kids into inaction. They simply don’t know what to write, when they are told they can write about anything. This has me thinking of designing lessons or activities that guide students to come up with ideas. Which is interesting, because one of the questions that comes up repeatedly during reading conferences is, “How does the writer come up with ideas for his/her stories.” It is clear that middle school kids need a pool of ideas and/or prompts to get them started. Sites like this and this are great, but perhaps kids need more of a push toward them. How do you help students find things to write about? How can we foster creativity and imagination?

Ironically, many of the students who are not blogging, said they are not writing because it is not graded or part of school, so they don’t have time to waste on it. Which makes me wonder if they would write more if I forced them and graded it, which leads us back to square one that school writing is not always authentic. Or is it? How do we find this balance of what is expected and graded and what is free of choice? Still struggling with that one. How much of this is explicitly for school and how much is bigger than school? Hoping to have a good conversation about this idea of academic relevance in the comments. It is a major talking point at our school at the moment? How do we assess this stuff? Should we?

It was great to see so many students make the connections between Voice, Trust, Writing and Community, because these themes are at the heart of what we do. This is the culture we are trying to create; one where students feel comfortable and safe enough with their peers to be able to share their ideas regardless of their writing “level.” 

We have a long way to go, but I feel pretty good about where we are after only six months. Cultures take time to build, and we  need to be cognizant of the people they affect. We have to stop and ask stakeholders what they are thinking, how they are feeling.

Next step for us, is to ask parents to articulate what they know about blogging. Ask them what they value and what they fear. It is an intimidating conversation to have, but an important one. Perhaps, showing them what their kids are saying would be a good first  step.


Community, Content and Commodity

I remeber being nervous and stingy and naive when I first joined Flickr nearly five years ago on February 3rd 2007. I knew little about networks or online sharing or photography or copy right or Creative Commons, or much of anything. I was, believe it or not, more self-obsessed than I am even now, and I felt that my ideas and my work and my photos were more valuable than they were. I had at the time sold a few photos at some coffee shop, and I remeber thinking, if I post them online then anyone can take them and do whatever they want with them. I contemplated watermarks and other such silly things.

I am not sure what changed my thinking, but the shift was simple: I understood that the photos, like much of my work would be more valuable, would reach a wider audience, would have a richer life if they did not belong to me, and were set free–so to speak–to roam the Internet. Perhaps, through osmosis or early contact I began to understand and appreciate the concept of the commons.

I don’t think my work is anything special. I do not want to own it. I am not interested in commercial gains from what I share online. I have a salary. I am a teacher. Everything else is who I am online. I share my work, because it brings me in contact with amazing human beings and ideas. So since that day in 2007, I have posted nearly 2000 photos on Flickr. I have since learned about Creative Commons and licensing. It’s pretty straight forward:

You are free:
to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
to Remix — to adapt the work

Under the following conditions:
Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor
Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

In short, it’s yours. Use it, do what you like with it, just don’t make money off of it, and please let people know where it came from. As simple as that sounds, Facebook and Instagram’s new terms of service are quite different. Sounds more like this:

We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

I have had a love/hate relationship (haven’t we all) for years now. I have written at length about the many times I have deleted my account. If reading pages and pages of ripes and excuses about Facebook is not your thing, here it is in short form:

I don’t like how sneaky Facebook is about the content I produce or what they might do with it. I don’t trust them. Who cares? You might be asking. Didn’t I just say that I am no longer attached to my work? The issue here is not the content per se, but the comodification of our communities, of our lives, of our experiences beyond our control.

I thought I had solved my Facebook problem. I decided to simply post updates to stay in touch with friends and family and never post any content. This was great especially when a young start-up names Instagram came to the neighborhood. Sure she was vague about ownership and licensing too, but she was sleek and sexy and look at all those filters! I could post my pics on Instagram and cross post to Facebook, without FB getting their hands on my content. Or so it seemed.

What was even better was the dynamic and organic community that was forming around photos on Instagram. It was perfect. I loved it. Until Facebook bought up my “favorite place online.” Like most people,  I knew they would ruin it, and it was only a matter of time. There are already countless articles about What Instagram’s New Terms of Service Mean for You and Facebook’s Extensive Network of Worldwide Affiliates, but here is the heart of the matter:

You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.


We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

Now that doesn’t sound very nice. That doesn’t sound at all like the things I was saying at the top of this post. So… I am deleting my Instagram account, not because I am afraid the pictures I take of clouds and my dinner will end up in some commercial, but because I just don’t like how Facebook does business. I don’t want people doing business with what I love, with what I create and share openly. I invest a lot of time and energy and love into these communities. They are valuable to me and I hope to others, but it is clear that our communities are also valuable to companies like Facebook. They want to know where we eat, what we do, what we like etc… I for one am choosing not to give it to them for free.

The Internet and the communities we build on? In? Through it, belong to us, and we should be able to choose how and where they are shared and on what terms. For me, at this time Flickr and Creative Commons are the best choice. They have both been around, relatively unchanged for a while. I like that I pay for Flickr. When services are “free” they are most likely bleeding you dry from some place you might not see. I will pay my yearly $24.95 and I will use the beautiful new Flickr App to try and rebuild my community where I started.

As a tool it is not perfect. It is a bit slow and not as comfortable as Instgram, but isn’t change why we are all in this game? To be adaptable and fluid?

I know that it is scary to leave a community you have built and in which you feel comfortable. That is what Facebook is banking on. That you won’t leave, but if a community is valuable and truly connected, it should be connected beyond a single app or tool. Thee more time I spend online, the more I see that we cannot, should not invest too many of our eggs in single baskets. Especially the one basket that seems to be buying all the other baskets.

I know I will miss certain people and events and expereinces being away from Instagram, but hopefully the people I care about will find me and who knows I may meet someone new. What are you waiting for? Are you leaving too? Do you have similar reasons? Better ones? Are you staying? Am I over reacting? Let’s turn the comments into a dynamic conversation about community, content and commodity.


Thriving Eco-System of Ideas

Some stuff has been happening. Oh boy has some stuff been happen’n. Every few days after I come up for air and try to stop myself from drowning in the sea of life at my new school, I notice that something magical is happening with my students. Not all of them, of course, but why do teachers always judge achievement by whether or not everyone succeeds? More importantly why do we spend so much energy on words like achievement and success, when really we might be better served to look for the little things that blossom and bloom around us everyday. Lately, I’ve begun to take comfort from the turning of corners, the shedding of inhibitions, the sharing of stories and selves and ideas and dreams.

I often use plant analogies when I write. I am comfortable with the seed cycle. Reaping and sowing. Tending and pruning. These actions are just as applicable to teaching and learning as to botany. In this post, I want to share my excitement about the things I’ve found sprouting in my garden (student blogs). Every night before I sleep I take a stroll through the garden (read my RSS feed) to see if there are any new buds.

Let’s take a quick look of what I have found recently. Shall we?

A student who has been struggling this year because he is a boarding student wrote a post about missing his parents. This tender and vulnerable post came off the heels of an equally thoughtful poem which is still in draft form and not yet ready for publishing. It was so nice to see this sapling break through the dry soil. So often we assume that an empty garden bed means there is no life, but if we are patient and we tend the soil, we will surprised by what may be quietly germinating beneath the surface.

Another girl who has been quiet and shy in class- an observer-  a lurker you might say– poured her heart out in a beautiful poem, another one not yet ready for sharing, but just two days later she shared this quirky and brilliant video about a failed art project. In the clip she demonstrates her fantastic ability to manipulate a camera while telling her story. Behind the lens she is an expert, but the beauty of this video is her self-conscious and self-deprecating honesty in front of the camera at the end.

A few weeks ago, Michele shared her thoughts on Introverts and about the awkwardness of adolescence. Perhaps her posts were what inspired Solal to write his Edublog Award nominated post Being a Social Outcast which has to date over one hundred comments from people all over the world who relate to his plight.

Over and over these kids are saying that they want to be heard, even when they don’t know why or how. These kids want to tackle complex issues. They want a place to find and share their voice. Maybe they are great poets, or perhaps they want to publicly and socially contemplate happiness. They are understanding that their spaces can be used to promote their projects, or share their moments of peace and excitement during school trips. They want to change the world and understand themselves. They write novels, make cup music and just play around. They are learning about voice and online etiquette in conversations like this one.

Not a bad harvest right? I could go on and on. Every week, more and more students begin to break ground and grow. Obviously blogging has been a big deal for me this year. I have been exploring the art of blogging since August. Writing about it here and talking about it here. And so I think it is a good time, as the mid-year break is upon us, to take a look at why and how we are still talking about.

Too often I feel like I need to defend why I value blogging. There is this nagging need to constantly justify the purpose of these spaces. This post is meant to share the fruits of our work, but I also wanted to try and clearly articulate the value of student blogging.

As is clear from the example above, teenagers grapple with several issues: identity, expression and community. These three concepts drive my pedagogy. People sometimes criticize the value of teenagers exposing themselves so publicly.  Claiming that perhaps I only share the most vulnerable examples. The purpose of blogging is not to bare your soul in some kind of open diary journal. The purpose of blogging is to share your voice with a community. My job as I see it is to help student understand how to navigate, understand and employ identity, expression and community. I use these spaces and the conversations that happen on them as key teaching spaces. I offer formative feedback, I guide, I mentor. I teach. When people ask me why I spend so much time on these spaces, I want to point them to this post and this simple manifesto:

I want my students to feel confident about who they are through critical and artistic exploration of their identity. I want them to learn how to clearly articulate this voice in a variety of media in order to find a network of like-minded people in order to create a community of learners that will help them learn during and beyond school.

Blogging is just the soil to achieve these goals. Take a look at our learner profile. How many of these qualities are obvious in the examples I have shared?

  • Critical Thinker, Problem Solver, Inquiry, Questioning, Connection, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation 
  • Concerned, Committed, Stewardship, Caring, Empathy, Compassion, Open-minded, Service, Sustainability
  • Creative and Innovative, Originality, Imagination, Curiosity, Adaptability, Connection, Persistence Risk-taking
  • Principled, Integrity, Honesty, Responsibility, Respect, Fairness
  • Collaborative, Cooperation, Participation, Leadership, Flexibility, Adaptability, Responsibility, Trust 
  • Resilient, Optimistism, Confidence, Courage, Diligence, Perseverance
  • Communicator, Communication, Interpretation, Perspective, Intent 
  • Self Aware, Self-discipline, Self-esteem, Self-confidence, Reflection 
  • Self Manager, Metacognition, Independence, Perseverance, Diligence, Organisation, Responsibility

Nearly everyone quality can be traced back to a the examples I shared above. Blogging is a way that my students are negotiating and understanding the learner profile in an authentic and discrete manner. They are practicing the skills and exemplifying the qualities although they might not be aware of it. The next job is to help them become metacognitively aware enough to see where and when they are demonstrating these skills and qualities. Another garden ripe for exploration.

I hope the examples I shared prove that students are not afraid to explore themselves and their peers publicly. Contrary to what most adults think, these kids if made comfortable, will use their public spaces to find their voice. As I mentioned earlier, of course this is not true of every kid, and I am not here to push every kid to open up. Some seeds need time. And perhaps the soil does not have the right nutrients for every child. But I am seeing that blogging is contagious. As the plants begin to grow, they shield and guide and support the younger saplings. Suddenly we find ourselves in a thriving eco-system of ideas. So I will till the soil, add fertilizer when needed, consider the amount of water every seed will need. I will find sunlight or shade as needed for every fragile sapling. I will wait patiently and stare at what appears to be barren soil. But like every successful gardener I have faith and I have patience. I will wait for every seed to grow.